Quite some time ago I started mentally writing a blog post with my top sewing tips. Things I'd learned one way or another, that I'd found could make the difference between a sewing project being successful, or not. But then, as the project I was working progressively went pear shaped and turned from one into two projects, I realised I was ignoring the things I had learned, and reaping some bad luck from the sewing gods. The project was a pair of toddler pants (well, two pairs), so being as it is kids sewing challenge week (and much of what I've been up to so far relates to these very issues) I thought I'd throw it in here (at last).
Details: Brown stretch corduroy from a friend's de-stash
Pattern from Ottobre (borrowed from a friend. I'm not sure which edition)
So, at the risk of boring you with advice:
Tip 1: Read the pattern through before you start.
By that I mean, before you select your fabric, and before you buy all the notions. Certainly before you trace off the pattern and cut all the pieces out and then decide you don't like the way the pattern tells you to put the waistband together, meaning you need to re-draft and cut a few pieces.This would also mean that if you've photocopied the pattern from a library book or such, you would discover that you neglected to photocopy a useful part of the instructions.
Tip 2: Check the measurements of the pattern.
Check it against the measurements of a similar style existing garment to compare how it will fit (ease and all), and against the intended wearer's measurements so that you can tell if it will fit (at all). Useful things to check are length and girth, particularly any tight spots, like the waistband on a pair of pants for example. Then you can make any appropriate adjustments to the pattern before you cut it out, instead of having to try to fix it up later, or to accept the fact that the recipient may grow out of it before the end of the season.
Tip 3: Prewash your fabric.
Basically, treat it before you start cutting as you intend to treat it after you've made the item. If you intend to handwash it, then handwash it. If you intend to machine wash it, then machine wash it. (If you intend to dryclean it then I wouldn't bother, but I usually try to avoid dryclean only fabrics, or test a sample to see if I can get away with laundering it a different way) It means you can be pretty confident it won't shrink, or the dye run. You also discover the hand (drape, stiffness, and general feel) of the fabric as it will be after you've washed it, rather than getting a surprise when the production finishing treatment is washed off. (Actually, I did do this. I try to do this with all new fabrics as they enter the house, before they enter the stash pile. Then I can just get on with a project whenever the mood strikes).
Tip 4: Pay attention to the fabric when you lay out your pattern.
Take a good look at the fabric.Which direction does your stretch fabric stretch in, and which direction do you want the pattern piece to stretch in? If it has a pattern, think about how the pattern is sitting on the pattern pieces. Do you want the stripes to line up? (use the pattern markings as reference points) If it has big motifs, where do they sit? and do you want them to sit in the same spots on the right and left sides? Does it have a one way pattern or nap? Nap is when it looks different viewed along the grainline in opposite directions. Like velvet or coating fabric, and apparently corduroy too. If it does, best to fold the fabric selvedge to selvedge, and make sure you cut all the pieces oriented in the same direction (ie, with all the tops towards one end). Otherwise you may find it's going to look a little odd (unless you have enough fabric left to re-cut a few pieces. I had enough to cut a second set of pieces to mix and match into two fairly cohesive pants).
Tip 5: Embrace the wonk.
Handmade things aren't supposed to be perfect. Hands and people are not machines. If things aren't perfect, don't dwell on it. Embrace it. Find the charm in it. (That can be translated as "Don't bother unpicking the carefully topstitched pockets so that they run in the same direction as the body pieces") Learn from it. Get on and sew something else.
*edited to add: There is also a great round up of sewing tip links here on Whip up. The internet is full of advice on a wide range of sewing issues it seems!